Unusual Things to do in Athens

By Abi King | Greece

Feb 20
Unusual things to do in Athens

Unusual Things to do in Athens

Athens is an unusual city. With its eye-watering place in world history, the olive-soaked Mediterranean air breezing through and the Acropolis shining on a hilltop, Athens should be an easy city to fall in love with.

Yet alongside the romance, Athens packs in skyscrapers, traffic jams, urban grit and edgy street art.

And a visit there is all the better for it.

It's a real city, a living city, a characterful city. But it does require a little effort to uncover the best it has to offer.

Allow me to introduce to you my lovingly curated collection of unusual things to do in Athens - all tried and tested by me.

Spices in the Athens Food Markets

Spices in the Athens Food Markets

What do I know about Athens?

I first travelled to Athens as a student at the turn of the century (now, doesn't that make me sound old: cue vintage suitcases all quirkily stacked one atop the other.)

I did what many do: I raced up to see the Acropolis in the madness of the midday sun before heading straight out of town and onto the lovely Greek blue open sea. This summer, I spent slightly longer in town: exploring the back streets and the magnificent new Acropolis Museum.

And then, this autumn, I returned, with three entire days to roam around town. I had some prearranged work appointments. I had some free time.

I was tasked with coming up with a 72-hour itinerary (that's a "three day guide" if you're jetlagged) that highlighted the best things to do in Athens.

Others covered other flavours of the city - like budget travel, nightlife, pure luxury and more. (There'll be a handy link to the other guides here in a week or so, too, when all the itineraries have been completed.)

But I was after the best. The most unusual.

The things I'd recommend a friend to do on their first trip to Athens.

So, here goes.The best things to do in Athens. According to me.

A New Take On Old Greek Classics

Check out the oh-so-peppery fresh virgin olive oil at the NEW Hotel Restaurant. NEW excels at serving fresh, organic mediterranean cuisine and the sculptures made from recycled furniture make a nice twist for the eye. Greek mezze never tasted so good.

Pomegranate and a View of the Acropolis

Dinner suggestion: the Electra Rooftop Garden Hotel. This glorious hotel drips in cream and gold and, as the name suggests, there's a rooftop terrace that overlooks the Acropolis. Now, plenty of places in Athens overlook the Acropolis but this one lives right up close ... and it serves a delicious pomegranate sorbet!

See the unusual side of Athens with a local guide in Athens

See the unusual side of Athens with a local guide in Athens

See Athens with a Local

Meet up with a volunteer local guide from This Is My Athens to discover the cool and curious parts of Plaka: the cutesy neighbourhood close to the Acropolis that can easily look a little, well, touristy otherwise. I'll write more about this on a separate post but, essentially, these guides feel that the world news pictures their hometown as "a city in flames" and they're keen to set the record straight.

Drink Wine and Talk Philosophy

Check out the burgeoning wine bars in the area around Electra. (Ask your This is My Athens guide for tips - or meet up with them and head there together!)

Tasty and unusual things to do in Athens involves finding stuffed vine leaves among other things

Tasty and unusual things to do in Athens (involves finding stuffed vine leaves among other things!)

Foodie Extravaganza: Market, Museum and Cooking Class

 Put on a pair of comfortable shoes and head to the Varvakios Agora to experience the raucous splendour of Athens' major fresh food market. Walk past hawkers and hampers filled with plump prawns, jostle between the crowd to buy fresh fish and hanging entrails, and then find some slow-paced solace amid the spice mountains outside.

Follow your trip to the market with a stop at the fascinating Museum of Gastronomy and see how well food combines with art.

Lunch suggestion: take a cooking class at the Museum of Gastronomy and leave not only well educated but also well fed :-)

Things to do in Athens - enjoy Greek Mezze at New hotel via @insidetravellab

Visit the Seaside: An Afternoon and Evening in Piraeus

Take your time strolling along the seafront, watching the waves kiss the shore and local children chase their shadows. It's a calm and beautiful spot, a world away from central Athens with only 20 minutes spent behind the wheel.

Dinner suggestion: Varoulko Seaside Restaurant

Ah, this lovely place. I almost don't want to tell you about it! Tucked up right beside the waterfront, this fresh and modern restaurant has the friendliest service of all the Michelin-starred places I've ever visited. The menu is creative, combining syringes of olive oil with leaf-wrapped minced langoustine. But even the humble cherry tomato tastes better here than elsewhere.

Find unusual street art in Athens

Find unusual street art in Athens

Open Air Cinema and Relaxation in the National Garden

If the sun shines and the orange blossom flutters on the trees, then stroll through the National Garden, dine on the outdoor terrace at Aegli Zappeiou and enjoy the open air cinema if the listings work out well for you.

 

Can't Miss Activities to do in Athens

 

1 - Visit the Acropolis

World class, nothing like it. Has to be done.

2 - Take a Cooking Class

Great flavours, living history, new skills learned by the end of it.

3 - Have Greek coffee with someone

Not only is it a lovely tradition but it's always more rewarding if you can meet with and chat to people who live in a place.

4 - Visit the Benaki Museum

Beautiful building, stunning art.

5 - Get outdoors

Stroll through the National Garden or along the waterside in Piraeus.

6 - Wander and get lost

Start in Syntagma square and walk and walk and walk to see the different faces of the city.

7 - Feel serene with Cycladic Art

This small museum offers peace and quiet, a tonic for the frenzy outside.

 

Indulge in the Museum District

Like all the best cities in the world, Athens has something of a museum district. This makes it easy to ping pong your way along Vasilissis Sofias Avenue up to Syntagma Square and around to Panepistimiou Street and the holy trinity of learning: the University of Athens, the Academy and the National Library.  (Another tip - if you bring your passport with you to the National Library, you can enter the reading room and, well, read.)

Depending on your energy and enthusiasm, you may be able to fly around each of these museums by mid afternoon. Chances are, though, that it's best to limit yourself to one or two. Particularly when you realise how many of them have fine cafes and restaurants cloistered away at the back...

Highlights

Benaki Museum - A range of Greek art plus, by appointment, the chance to hold some of the exhibits

Museum of Cycladic Art - contemplative exhibits and a chic monochrome cafe

Zoumboulakis Galleries - private collections of contemporary art bring you back to 21st century Greece

Numismatic Museum - the museum of coins! Pick up an audio guide to translate and immerse yourself in stories of power and pomp through different currencies.

Discussing ancient philosophy in Greece

Discussing ancient philosophy in Greece

Head Outdoors to Plato's Original Academy

But if you're looking for something more outdoorsy yet still with that cultural edge, I've a nice surprise for you. Head to the outskirts of town to touch the ruins of Plato's former academy.

Sushi and Swimming

If the clouds or cool rain have decided to move in, or if you're yearning for a break from traditional Greek tastes, check out the glittering lights and sushi selection at the Galaxy Bar, Hilton Athens.

It also offers a magnificent floodlit view of the Acropolis...

Text from ancient Greece in the Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum Athens (7 of 21)

Make Time for the Usual Things to do in Athens As Well

Embrace the Acropolis and Plaka

Yes, everyone goes there, but there's a good reason for that! These crumbling columns are the tangible memory of a civilisation that gave us more than we can sometimes comprehend: the basis of democracy, the spirit of the Olympics and even the word alphabet itself. Granted, there are other aspects we may be glad the world has forgotten (like exercising naked in the gymnasium, I'd say) but still.

Head up the hill early and seek plenty of shade.

Explore the Acropolis

Throw yourself completely into the spirit of ancient Greece by following up the Acropolis with the dazzlingly modern Acropolis Museum. This masterpiece based its architecture on the Parthenon itself and uses a range of multimedia exhibits to bring the stones you see to life. (There's even a lego exhibit: now who could want more than that?!)

Cheeky Tip!

The Acropolis Museum also has a sun and shade soaked terrace that serves super strong Greek coffee

Cat in Anafiotica Athens

Time to finish in Anafiotica, a beautiful blue and white part of the city that clings to the hillside by the Acropolis. Plus, there's a confident cat for good measure.

Other Things to See and Do in Athens

Of course, there are plenty of other great things to see and do in Athens if you have more time. I was hard pressed to squeeze the list to be this lean. Come back to check out the itineraries from the other bloggers and to see what else I write about the city!

Enjoy Athens

Abi (2)

Disclosure

Although my recommendations come from a mix of trips, this last journey to Athens came about as a project created by Toposophy and The City of Athens CVB. I flew from London Heathrow to Athens with Aegean Airlines and the on demand taxi app Taxibeat and the Athens Urban Transport system helped me to get around. On this last, but not the previous trips, accommodation was provided by Hilton Athens.

With all that said, this would be my own pick of the best and most unusual things to do in Athens.

What have I missed? What do you think are the best things to see and do in Athens?

Unusual things to do in Athens - a guide to how to have an amazing trip to Athens, Greece. From foodie recommendations to hotel stays, meeting with locals, museums, sunset strolls and more. If you're looking for the best things to do in Athens or fun things to do in Athens then this is for you! #Athens #Attica #Travel
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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Great tips – I’ve been to Athens a few times but usually to get a boat on elsewhere so apart from the Acropolis, I never feel like I’ve got under the city’s skin.

    • Abi King says:

      Well, I think you’re in good company there! We’re often so keen for that sunshine and clear water we can’t think straight. But if you think you’d enjoy a city break in Rome, say, or Milan, then I’d recommend spending a bit longer in Athens!

  • This is a great list. One thing that I would add is to watch the changing of the guard in front of the Greek parliament building, The soldiers wear a splendid uniform (which includes shoes with pom-poms) and they walk in slow motion. Marvellous!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah yes! I couldn’t believe that was serious when I first saw it – and the last time I was in town it was raining, which put me off. But you’re right – that IS a sight to see. Thanks!

  • Karen Antoni says:

    The Melena Micori café absolute must to see the Athenians out and to have a special coffee liquor or chocolate in this authentic place surrounded by photos and pictures of a wonderful actress and campaigner.

  • Helen Kladi says:

    Athens can be so much more too! Check out the roof top bar / restaurant at Athens Gate Hotel and view both the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis lit up at night time (Day time entrance to Temple of Zeus is free if you still have your ticket from the Acropolis). O & B Athens Boutique Hotel and its restaurant are amazing! As is Sushi at the Metropolitan Hotel, The Spa and suites at both Divani Caravel and Royal Olympic Hotel will certainly impress you and if you want somewhere extra special (boutique) to stay then Ava Hotel is perfection and the rooftop pool at Melia Athens is wonderful. Afternoon tea (after viewing the guards at the parliament in Syntagma) then make your way to Grande Bretagne Hotel. Designer shops are a must in Kolonaki then a trip up to Lycabettus Hill (easier by funicular train) then the views are certainly worthwhile. In the summer there is the Dora Stratou traditional dance & light show as well as shows / performances at the Acropolis amphitheatre Herodes. Take the metro and visit Glyfada – the Athenian Riviera or the port of Piraeus. Don’t forget to sample Greek souvlaki & pitta and / or a traditional meze with ouzo at least once and in winter try the national dish – Fassolada Soup! Everywhere you go you can be assured of Greek Hospitality.

    • Abi King says:

      Thanks Helen – what a lovely, generous topic full of tips. I must go back!!!!

  • Csilla says:

    Hi Abi, great list of activities. Never visited Athens before, but next year we might go. Did you stayed only in Athens, or traveled also around? If yes, which places you still recommened to visit around? Thank you for great tips. have a lovely day, Csilla

  • Esther says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Athens ís quite unusual and it came as a surprise to me that there was so much more to explore than just the archaeological sights. I especially liked the Psirri neighbourhood with all its street art!

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